Andy Marshall

ICEHOTEL® 2018 is open for the winter!

Written by
Monday, 17 December 2018

When the first plans for the ICEHOTEL® 2018 were revealed in August, we couldn’t wait to see the finished suites. Now, the wait is over and the ICEHOTEL® is officially open!

medium icehotel norhern lights asaf kliger22222 2

This is the 29th annual rendition of the hotel which saw 34 artists from 13 countries help to create the structure made completely of snow and ice. Nature is the inspiration behind many of the suites this year and we’re excited to show you the photos from the grand reveal.  

Ali Mclean

What is the KP-Index?

Most people in the UK would associate the initials KP with a tasty range of salted snacks. However, in Northern Lights hunting circles, the initials have a completely different and yet, vitally important significance.

The Kp-Index - derived from the German “Planetarische Kennziffer meaning “Planetary Index” - is a measure of geomagnetic activity in the Earth’s atmosphere. Geomagnetic activity is the origin of the Aurora Borealis in our night skies and hence the ferocity of that activity is closely monitored in order to maximise chances of witnessing Mother Nature’s greatest wonder...

The Kp-Index does just that by utilising a scale from 0 to 9 where 9 represents a hugely significant geomagnetic storm. However, such storms are very rare indeed (approx. 1 every 3 years) and historical records point to Kp1, Kp2 and, to a lesser extent Kp3, being far and away the most frequent levels.

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    The Kp-Index and Geomagnetic Storms

    As mentioned previously the Kp-Index ranges from 0 to 9 representing geomagnetic activity on an increasing scale. When it reaches Kp5, activity is said to have reached storm level and is also measured using the Geomagnetic G-scale from G1 (minor) to G5 (Extreme).

    Kp-Scale G-Scale Frequency Auroral Activity
    0 N/A   Quiet

    A range between Kp1 to Kp3

    is most frequently observed

    2 Quiet
    3 Unsettled
    4   Active
    5 1 900 days per solar cycle* Minor Storm
    6 2 360 days per solar cycle* Moderate Storm
    7 3 130 days per solar cycle* Strong Storm
    8 4 60 days per solar cycle* Severe Storm
    9 5 4 days per solar cycle* Extreme Storm


    (source SWPC/NOAA)

     *1 solar cycle = 11 years

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    Geographical impact of the Kp-Index

    The Kp-Index provides a valuable estimate of where the Northern Lights might be visible. It’s not an exact science as other factors come into play (cloud cover and daylight for example) but roughly speaking, the Kp forecast provides a reasonable indication as to where the Aurora Borealis might appear.

    This is, of course, dependent on you being somewhere dark with unobstructed views of the northern sky. However, assuming that conditions are in your favour, here’s how the Kp-Index translates itself geographically.

    This is why all of our holidays are situated at 66°N and above (i.e. higher latitudes) in Northern Europe. The most frequent Kp levels are between Kp0 and Kp3 which means that the Aurora Borealis appears in those areas more frequently than anywhere else.

    For the Northern Lights to be visible further south, much higher geomagnetic activity is required and this  occurs far less frequently. For residents of the UK and Europe, a rough rule of thumb might be:

    Kp5 =  Northern Scotland / Southern Scandinavia

    Kp7 =  Northern England / Northern Germany

    Kp9 = Southern England / Central France

    In North America, because the Auroral Oval is centred around magnetic rather than polar north, the Aurora Borealis can be seen at lower latitudes. Assuming that you were outside the city on a clear night and with unobstructed views to the north then, roughly speaking:

    Kp5 = Seattle / Toronto

    Kp7 = Denver / Nashville

    Kp9 = Texas and Northern Mexico

    It is important, however, to remember that the Northern Lights appears most frequently at high latitudes.

    This is because Kp1, Kp2 and, to a lesser extent, Kp3 are by far the most common levels of geomagnetic activity. This restricts regular Auroral displays to an area around, and just above, the Arctic Circle. Essentially, that is where you have the very best chance of seeing the Northern Lights.

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    Where is the best place to see the Northern Lights?

    Of course, this still begs the oft-asked questions; Where is the best place to see the Northern Lights? There is no one place where the lights appear most frequently. If geomagnetic activity is occurring overhead then it doesn’t matter if you are in Sweden, Iceland, Norway or Finland. As long as you are somewhere in that Auroral band you are giving yourself the best possible chance of seeing some spectacular Northern Lights displays.

    We would add a caveat to that however. It is not enough to simply base yourself in a northern city like Tromsø or Reykjavik, as Aurora hunting requires much more. You need to escape the light pollution of large towns, cities and ski resorts because the glare caused by human population will dull or even, obscure the Northern Lights.

    Watching shimmering lights as they dance across a coal-black Arctic sky is an experience bordering on the mystical. To give yourself the greatest chance of enjoying the magic, you have to be where the lights appear most frequently. Essentially, this means being somewhere in the area covered by Kp1 and Kp2.

    Click here to view our Northern Lights holidays

    Image Credits: NOAA Space Weather Prediction Center & Antti Pietikainen
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Laura Gay

Win on holiday with #AuroraZoneMoments!

Written by
Friday, 07 December 2018

Share your #AuroraZoneMoments with us for your chance to WIN a £50 voucher! Click here to find out more.

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Mark McFaul

Travel Competition

Written by
Friday, 30 November 2018

Share your #AuroraZoneMoments to WIN a £50 Amazon voucher!

Credit Antti Pietikainen DSC01484

Do you have a photograph from your Aurora Zone holiday that captures a special moment? Well, we'd love to see them! Enter our monthly #AuroraZoneMoments competition for a chance to win a £50 Amazon voucher!

How to enter: 

1. Upload your travel photographs to social media using the hashtag #AuroraZoneMoments. Make sure you like and tag our Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages too!

2.  We'll repost your picture on our social media channels. (Top tip: double-check your post is not ‘private’!)

3. Our panel of Aurora Zone judges will pick a winner each month and announce it on The Aurora Zone Facebook page!

We look forward to seeing you experience your #AuroraZoneMoments and we wish you a once-in-a-lifetime Northern Lights holiday with The Aurora Zone. Good luck!

Click here to view our terms and conditions.

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Image Credits: Antti Pietikainen
Joanna Robertson

Muotka Credit Matt Robinson 2 12

If you have been keeping up to date with our blogs then you will remember that we recently mentioned why we love Coronal Holes so much (you can find out more here).

The key thing to note about Coronal Holes is that they are one of the causes of solar winds which, in turn, cause the Northern Lights to appear in our skies. Although less violent than Coronal Mass Ejections (the other source of solar wind), they are more stable. So much so, that they often reappear 27 days after their first appearance on the surface of the sun.

Joanna Robertson

Markku Inkila Jan 13 68

Whether you are running low on annual leave or you’re simply just pushed for time, we know that not everyone can take a week-long break during the winter. However, trips to see the Northern Lights don’t have to be an extended holiday. In fact, Northern Lights weekend breaks are some of our most-loved trips.

Jono Archer

medium icehotel northern lights asaf kliger and icehotel

The ICEHOTEL® in Sweden is one of the most famous hotels in the world. Now in its 29th year, this season the theme will focus heavily on nature including a forest suite and an underwater world room. You can find out more about the plans for the ICEHOTEL® 2018 here.

Though a stay at the ICEHOTEL® is an experience in itself, there are also several events happening over Christmas and New Year 2018/2019 that will really add to your holiday. What better way to experience this bucket-list destination than during the wonderful festive period? This time of year is so special, even the locals have made it a tradition to visit.

Laura Gay

Coronal Holes – The basics

As we enter the period of the Solar Cycle when the Sun’s activity increases, we can expect to see the number and strength of geomagnetic storms increasing. Most of these storms will come from Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), but sometimes displays of the aurora are generated by Coronal Holes.

Coronal Holes are regions of the Sun that are less dense and cooler than the plasma that surrounds them. Importantly, according to the Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colorado, they are regions of “open, unipolar magnetic fields” which allow High-Speed Streams of solar wind to escape into space.

When these increased solar winds are directed towards the Earth, the particles collide with the gases in our atmosphere creating energy which manifests itself as the Northern Lights.

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    Coronal Holes – the alternative source for the Aurora

    As we enter the more active part of the Sun’s activity cycle, events such as Coronal Mass Ejections which cause geographically widespread Auroras are much more common. This means that Coronal Holes normally take more of a back seat when it comes to the Sun’s activity.

    Coronal Holes don’t throw out solar wind with the same ferocity and density as Coronal Mass Ejections but they do have the same effect of creating Auroras. The only real difference is that the lights appear in a much narrower geographical band. This band sits roughly between 66°N and 69°N and encompasses the northern areas of Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland. This is the reason that the Northern Lights appear far more frequently in these regions than anywhere else and is exactly why we base our holidays here.

    Click here to find out more about Solar Minimum.

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    Coronal Holes – A short-term tool for predicting Auroral activity?

    The presence of a Coronal Hole on the surface of the Sun means that we can take an educated guess at when the Aurora might become more active. If that Coronal Hole is Earth-facing, then we can take a very reasonable stab at predicting an increase in geomagnetic activity.

    Depending on the velocity of the Coronal Hole High-Speed Stream (CH HSS), the solar wind generally takes two to four days to reach our atmosphere. The images below certainly suggest that there is a direct relationship between Coronal Holes and the Kp index of geomagnetic activity.

    On 04 October 2018, the large coronal hole on the surface of the sun was Earth-facing and allowed High-Speed Streams of solar wind to escape into space. Three days later, that same increased solar wind buffeted our atmosphere causing a marked increase in geomagnetic activity.

    The results were phenomenal as you can see from these images taken near Harriniva and Torassieppi by Antti Pietikainen on the night of 07/08 October 2018.



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    Coronal Holes – Persistence often pays

    One of the great advantages of Coronal Holes - from an Aurora hunting perspective - is that they can remain on the surface of the Sun for several rotations. Coronal Mass Ejections are one-off events but a Coronal Hole can produce Auroral displays for two, three, four, five even six rotations before it eventually dissipates.

    This means that we can also use Coronal Holes as a longer-term predictive tool. Admittedly, this is a far less accurate process because it takes 27 days for a Coronal Hole to come around again and, during that time, it can reduce considerably or disappear completely. Alternatively, it can get bigger and the solar winds emanating from it can get stronger.

    Hence, if we see a large Earth-facing Coronal Hole we will be marking our calendars for its reappearance. 

    We can best illustrate this with the images below. The Coronal Hole in question first came to our attention on 12 August 18 and we were watching for the next rotation as it looked to have considerable potential. Sure enough, it reappeared in an Earth-facing position on 07 September 18 and resulted in a higher level of geomagnetic activity a few days later, demonstrated in the visual.




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    Polar and Equatorial Coronal Holes

    Coronal Holes can occur anywhere on the surface of the Sun but are more prevalent at the poles. These Polar Coronal Holes do not release High-Speed Streams and are of little consequence to Aurora hunters. However, they often migrate north or south, sometimes as far as the equatorial regions and this changes everything.

    This is illustrated if we look at the genesis of the Coronal Hole we have followed throughout this article. We first see it as the dark region around the Sun’s North Pole in the image below from 14 July 18.

    At this point, it is of very little interest from an Aurora hunting point of view as any escaping solar wind will probably lack the sort of velocity required to create Auroras. Nor are they likely to be directed towards our planet.

    14 July 2018 - However, a few days later on 19 July 18 as the Sun rotates, we can see the Coronal Hole has started to migrate southwards. All of a sudden, this is of interest because it has the potential to position itself continentally and release faster streams by the time it next faces the Earth.

    19 July 2018 - One full rotation later and bingo! We see the emergence of a fully-fledged trans-continental Coronal Hole which is releasing earthbound High Speed Streams of solar wind.

    12 August 2018 - Unfortunately, the Midnight Sun in Northern Scandinavia rendered any Auroral displays invisible to our still-hibernating photographers. They had to wait for one more full solar rotation to make the most of this beauty. Nevertheless, Antti Pietikainen found the perfect vantage point on 10 September 2018!

    Suffice to say that Continental and Equatorial Coronal Holes release High Speed Streams of solar wind. When that wind is directed towards Earth, we will often see the Northern Lights a few days later.

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    Coronal Holes – The key points

    • Coronal Holes are darker, cooler and less dense regions on the Sun’s surface
    • Coronal Holes are the main source of Auroras when Solar activity is low
    • Coronal Holes generally result in Auroras in a band between 66°N and 69°N
    • Coronal holes occur anywhere on the surface of the Sun
    • Continental and Equatorial Coronal Holes release High Speed Streams of solar wind
    • Geomagnetic activity in our atmosphere increases a few days after an Earth-facing Coronal Hole appears on the surface of the Sun
    • Coronal Holes are more persistent and stable than more explosive but one-off Coronal Mass Ejections. This means that they can reappear several times as it rotates back towards the Earth every 27 days.


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    Want to learn more about the science behind the Northern Lights? 

    Your questions answered: 

    Alternatively, speak to an Aurora Expert today on 01670 785012.

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Joanna Robertson

Good news from space!

Written by
Friday, 16 November 2018

Nellim Credit Matt Robinson 1

If you read our blogs regularly then you will remember that we recently discussed why we really love Coronal Holes (if not you can catch up here). Not only do Coronal Holes produce high-speed streams of Solar Wind which often manifest themselves as the Northern Lights but they also help in predicting Auroral activity too.

Joanna Robertson

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If you are like us, then you will probably know the feeling of watching as the excitement builds and builds towards the 25th December before it crashes down again on the 26th- that is of course until the 31st December!

Now, we love a New Year’s party as much as the next person and some of the fireworks displays on offer can be wonderful. However, if you really want to celebrate in style and enjoy a light show like no other then there really is only one thing to do – book yourself a New Year Northern Lights escape!

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The Aurora Zone was born from a desire to share Mother Nature’s greatest wonder with our clients. We’ve explored the destinations, researched the science, and fallen in love with the Scandinavian way of life. It’s our mission to pass this knowledge on to you, providing you with the very best chance of experiencing the magic for yourself on your Northern Lights holiday.

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